Highland cheerleading co-captains Bailey Wills and Hope Imming were among the elite 22 chosen high school seniors around the state to be named to the 2017 Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association (ICCA) All-State Team.
“I’m extremely proud of both of them, they are amazingly talented girls,” said Highland cheerleading coach Angie Fears, who has coached the duo at the varsity level all four years. “It doesn’t surprise me that they were chosen for the squad, as their tumbling and stunting capabilities are at the elite end of the scale. They are both very committed and hard working girls and are striving to make the most of their senior year.”
Wills and Imming both started tumbling together a young age and they have been cheering together since they did All-Star Cheer together in sixth grade. They went on to cheer together all the way through Highland Middle School and then now all four years at Highland High School.
To apply for the ICCA All-State Team as well as be one of the 10 finalists for the ICCA Scholarhip, Wills, a flyer, and Imming, a back spot, had to submit a video that included a cheer, a dance, their best standing tumbling pass, their best running tumbling pass, a triple jump, and a stunt sequence.
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Wills and Imming and the rest of their Highland varsity cheerleading teammates practice every night for three hours, in addition to taking tumbling classes at Core Elite Tumble and Cheer in Highland to continue to hone their tumbling skills.
“I am very honored to have been named to the all-state team and being a top 10 finalist for the scholarship,” Wills said. “This is definitely an honor to receive after all the work I have put into cheerleading. With all the practices, it has taken a lot of dedication and sacrifices, but I love what I do and this accomplishment has definitely showed that my hard work has paid off. I am very excited to have received these awards. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the push from my two (cheer) coaches, Angie Fears and Chelsey Kantner, and my tumbling coach Marco Zamphier.”
“I was very excited to find out that I had been selected for the all-state team,” Imming said. “I have been lucky enough to work with some great coaches and many talented cheerleaders over the years. Although it is nice to receive individual recognition, cheerleading is definitely a team sport and it takes everyone working together to be successful. My teammates and coaches are like family to me. During cheer season, we spend countless hours together at practice — refining skills, perfecting the competition routine, and motivating one another to achieve a common goal.”
Next fall, Wills will be attending the University of Louisville and she is hoping to continue her cheerleading career there. She attends all of Louisville’s clinics and will be trying out for the Cardinals’ all-girl team in May.
Imming, who has been in competitive studio dance since she was 4 years old and does competitive dance at Innovative Movement Dance Company in Highland, will be attending the University of Alabama where she will major in business.
“Regardless of whether I cheer in college or not, I can’t say enough about Highland’s cheer program and what I have gained from it,” Imming said.
But before graduating and moving on to chase their college aspirations, Wills, Imming and their teammates have their biggest competitions still in front of them.
First up is the ICCA State Competition Jan. 7 at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield, where Highland will look to repeat and win its 12th ICCA state championship.
Then on Jan. 29, Highland will compete at the Illinois High School Association Triad Sectional (IHSA), with a berth in the IHSA Competitive Cheerleading State Finals at U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, on the line.
“We were able to place first at ICCA last year so a goal would definitely be to place well again this year at ICCA State,” Wills said. “For IHSA, a podium finish would be the best way to end my senior year. My freshman year was the last year we placed third and so we are the last group to have experienced a podium finish. I hope this year that we can finish out on podium so that the other members of the team can experience such an amazing and awarding feeling and take that with them as a goal to continue to do better each year after. But the competition gets harder and more competitive each year so it’s never going to come easy, and so we need to keep working hard.”
Wills said another goal is to end with a performance the team is happy with because they gave their all and have no regrets.
Earlier this season, the Lady Bulldogs won first place at the ICCA Waterloo Regional on Nov. 20 before going on to take second at the ICCA Highland Regional on Dec. 3.
“We still need to work on our consistency at times, but we are working hard on that at practices and we’re already starting to pull it together,” Wills said. “We did really good at Waterloo Regional and placed well at Highland but did not give the performance we wanted. I think Highland was our wake-up call that we need to remain focused. That performance has only made us work harder at practices to improve our consistency each time we run our routine.”
The weakness of the team is inexperience. Out of the 16 total team members, 10 of them are underclassmen (six freshmen, four sophomores). Besides Wills, the other three flyers on the squad are freshmen.
“It puts a lot of pressure on them, but they have pulled through and definitely showed why the deserve to be on the varsity team,” Wills said.
The strength of this year’s team is the tumbling. The team boasts 10 fulls (also known as a full twisting layout or full twist) which is the most coach Fears has ever had. Next year, the squad will lose the talents of Wills and Imming, but they will still be filled with fulls.
Wills is excited about the routine the team is tuning up for the peak of the competitive season.
“We have a very strong and fully filled routine that showcases all of our skills,” she said. “My favorite part is the very beginning of our routine. We have just changed our opening for ICCA State so nobody has seen it yet but it’s going to wow everyone. It’s a very impressive opening and will cause the audience to put their full attention on us.”